Finally, after months of chasing outfielders and stacking up marginal first baseman like they’re firewood for the winter which doesn’t seem like it’s going to arrive, the Rangers addressed the gaping hole in the roster and went out and got themselves a top notch pitcher. And it’s a blast from the past, as they bring back Nolan Ryan for yet another victory tour. You know how successful he was in his career, all those World Series wins, part of the Rangers team that brought respectability to North Texas baseball, and so on. So look for the good times to be rolling again, the only question being whether he’ll be considered the number one starter, or if he’ll slot into number two behind kickboxing Kevin Millwood. I say put Ryan in the second spot, after all, he’s had a long layoff so he might be a little tired, and it’ll reduce the pressure on him, too.
What do you mean, he’s not here to pitch? Club President? What the hell? You mean after all this time, when all they’ve done is bring in roster filler, this is the big announcement? That some plenty-has-been who wasn’t even that good as a player is now back to be President? That they neuter Jon Daniels on one hand (ewww), and give him an extension on the other just to pretend he’s still the man?
I know that Hicks has been busy with his Liverpool soccer team (if you don’t follow soccer, the quick summary would be: borrowed too much money to buy the team; trying to build a new stadium but discovering the folks over in England aren’t as eager as the folks here are to give billionaires their money; fighting off rumors he’s already going to sell the team, to some outfit from Dubai; and hated so much by the fans that they’re trying to form their own consortium to buy him out – can you imagine 100,000 Rangers fans giving $3000 each to buy the Rangers? That’s what their pie in the sky idea is). But he’s apparently been so busy over there that he’s reduced to stunts like this, signing the great Nolan Ryan as president of his team. Yes, it got him on the front page of ESPN.com, and all the local media, but that will disappear very quickly. When the dust clears, all you’ve got is another face in the front office to take some of the heat off Hicks’ pathetic management of the team. And just wait until he has to fire Ryan, or the contract ends and isn’t renewed – what will the media say then?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not like Nolan Ryan. You can talk all you like about his career, his deification by the fans, the Hall of Fame, etc etc. Fact is, he is one of the worst pitchers in the Hall. Fact is, all his records are counting stats, there simply because he hung around until he broke down. Fact is, his strikeout record is more than offset by his walk record. Fact is, he was a mediocre pitcher who pitched for a long time. That old joke about how do you replace 16-14 Ryan? Get two 8-7 pitchers. It’s completely true. Ryan’s problem wasn’t the lack of support (the first excuse that’s usually trotted out in his defense), because that was caused as much by the ballparks he pitched in (for most of his career he pitched for Houston and California, in enormous ballparks that suppressed his teammates run support as much as it reduced his own ERA). After all, he chose the teams, and even when offered the chance to go to the Yankees he picked “home” with the Astros instead. Ryan’s problem was that he could never let up, even a little – his gameplan was to strike everybody out, and if he had to walk them all to do it, he would. He could have been the greatest pitcher of all time (and for those of you who think he was, well, to put it simply, you’re an idiot), but that inability to get a groundball out on one pitch instead of trying to blow six pitches by you cost him a lot.
One of my side projects has been a statistical study of Ryan’s career. I have been working on it for several years now, and had thoughts of completing it and posting it this winter, but never got round to it. Would have been really good timing if I had. Maybe next winter. It’s a multiple part series, examining all sorts of numbers related to him, everything from the stuff I talk about above down to how well his bullpen supported him. Stick around, it should be good reading whenever I get to finishing it.
Among the jokes in the press conference was the fact that they really have no plan for him. They couldn’t identify a structure, whether Jon Daniels reports to him or not, whether he could fire JD, or even what he is going to do. He talked about having input on signings, and on the system, but only when it was asked for. The whole impression that was given was that they were bringing in this figurehead, this nice old grandpa, the guy that everyone loves, and he’s going to turn around the team by doing… what? Because with the small level of success the team has had lately (being named the fourth best minor league system by Baseball America – yes, that is the level of success the Rangers have to trumpet these days), the question has to be asked whether he is going to do anything to continue that trend, or worse, if it all falls apart is he going to be the one to get the blame?
Another laughable part was his pointing out he’d be moving his calendar around to accommodate the job. And their point that they used this to gain credibility with the fans, after a poor season at the box office. Ask yourself this: how many games will you attend this year because Nolan Ryan is the team president? If you add up every fan’s answer, you’re going to get a number pretty darn close to zero. Better yet, maybe the team will win a few extra games this year, attendance will go up a little, and they’ll say that it was the boost by Nolan that did it. They just don’t seem to realize, none of the rest of it matters – it’s what happens on the field that is what the fans care about. Not some rich guy playing his little games of sports empire, and not some guy who was famous twenty year ago. Just win, baby.